California’s new law means more bang for every buck invested in wildlife

The Swainson's hawk was listed as a threatened species in California in 1983 due to loss of habitat and decreased numbers across the state.

The Swainson's hawk is one of the at-risk species that AB 2087 benefits.

Prudent investors know to keep a few key things in mind. They anticipate the timing of spending priorities, like retirement, and evaluate investment risk accordingly. They might spread resources across funds to meet different objectives. And of course, they look to maximize their return on investment.

Why shouldn’t these same principles apply to investments in our natural resources?

Thanks to a new bill signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, these principles will now apply to regional conservation investment strategies for wildlife and other resource management activities in California.

AB 2087: A new approach to conservation planning and mitigation

Assembly Bill (AB) 2087 (Levine), will establish voluntary, non-regulatory strategies to help conservationists, local agencies and the state apply core investment principles when planning conservation or mitigation projects.

This legislation comes at a critical time. Expanding development in California has supported a growth in food production, flood protection, transportation and housing, but it has also resulted in various impacts on the environment. The loss and fragmentation of wildlife habitat, in particular, has created a need for the state to restore and maintain at least 600,000 acres for multiple at-risk species in the coming decades.

How does AB 2087 help?

First, the regional conservation investment strategies will establish measurable conservation priorities, including those needed to combat climate change. This will help guide future investment, both in the protection of high-quality habitats and in infrastructure or project development.

Second, the strategies have broad utility. Local agencies can employ them to plan for disturbance of multiple types of species habitat and then optimize the value of restoration projects. Agencies responsible for everything from levees to roads can make use of these strategies to avoid impacts and preserve the highest quality habitat for species.

Finally, AB 2087 helps provide a clear expectation of return on investment in advance mitigation projects. By allowing local agencies to offset future habitat impacts with projects that meet robust standards, the regional strategies give investors more certainty and encourage greater upfront investment in high-priority habitat that otherwise would not have been cost-effective for most agencies.

The bill brings the market for advance mitigation to working landowners as well. AB 2087 allows public agencies to form mitigation credit agreements through approved investment strategies. This will allow agencies to invest in habitat projects on working lands and apply those projects toward future impacts. Participating landowners will benefit from a new funding stream for the creation and maintenance of habitat credits on their property.

Measuring and tracking outcomes

Advance mitigation credits are tied to meeting measurable ecological outcomes shaped by conservation priorities in the regional strategy.

The Central Valley Habitat Exchange, a collaborative effort developed by EDF and partners, has created tools to help both local agencies and private landowners track progress toward these milestones. The habitat quantification tool, in particular, enables consistent measurement of habitat quality, while informing project design to optimize outcomes for multiple species, especially on working lands.

A new path to recovery

AB 2087 gives hundreds of threatened and endangered species in California a new path to recovery, helping to protect high-quality habitat before it is paved through, built upon or otherwise converted. It also reduces climate impacts to precious habitat by better planning for how these threats might harm species in the future.

AB 2087’s passage and the high standard it sets for advance mitigation raise the bar for conservation investment, providing an approach that will ultimately help sustain California’s valuable natural resources.

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